Nova fails to make a new name for itself

Cutting-edge Sixties style magazine, Nova, has made a return to the news-stands. But the latest incarnation is less shocking and more conventional than the trend-setting original
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The Independent Online

Well, if I said the most surprising element of fashion magazine Nova was that it was launched in May (traditionally a low-impact month), or that the cleverest element was the design of the T-shirt they are giving away free, or that the most beautiful element was a photograph of a brain inside a plastic bag, you might think I was either a) mad, b) sad or c) had a bad case of sour grapes. [The last option related to my role as deputy editor of Frank, a now-defunct women's magazine].

Well, if I said the most surprising element of fashion magazine Nova was that it was launched in May (traditionally a low-impact month), or that the cleverest element was the design of the T-shirt they are giving away free, or that the most beautiful element was a photograph of a brain inside a plastic bag, you might think I was either a) mad, b) sad or c) had a bad case of sour grapes. [The last option related to my role as deputy editor of Frank, a now-defunct women's magazine].

I'll admit to having a more than casual interest in Nova's fate, as any journalist in the field of women's magazines might. But I feel justified in studying Nova with a critical eye mostly because my (and the rest of the industry's) expectations were so high. Nova "The Fashion Magazine Reborn", as it tags itself, has an illustrious heritage. It first existed as a radically intelligent and brilliantly innovative magazine, launched in 1965. For readers who aren't familiar with Nova Mk I, I would urge you to buy the beautiful coffee table book of the same name. The photography, graphics and subject matter are still inspirational, and its a rare art director or editor who would claim not to have been influenced by the original Nova.

But excuse me for looking back - surprisingly, it's a direction that Nova Mark II encourages us to look in. The cover image is strictly retro, the lead feature surveying the opinions of 100 women is an update of Nova It's 1969 version and the sole coverline, "The Second Coming" is hardly the tabala rasa approach. However, to say that Nova is a Sixties throwback in its entirety would be very wrong. Features on artistic pubic hairstyles, how to sit on a loo seat and DJ widows are very 21st century. Travel features on Harlem and Leeds are clever and left-field (but then, would readers really rather go there than Manhattan and London)?

By now, you might have bought a copy of Nova for yourself (it was fanfared into newsagents at the end of last week after a launch party. You might have decided that you love Nova - certainly despite the majority of those straw-polled among my female friends feeling a certain sense of ennui, one absolutely loved it and a couple said they'd buy it again. It has a coherent voice, which is a fundamental, if sometimes overlooked, starting point for any magazine. It knows exactly who it is aimed at, although that person probably isn't who we thought it was going to be. It's not for sophisticated veterans of Vogue, The Face, and yes, Frank. It's younger, clubbier, wilder. (Oddly, in their private readership profile the publishers claimed Nova-ites would "care about teenage pregnancy", but this might be from an entirely different perspective than they might have imagined).

But Nova isn't groundbreaking. And that's a real shame. The team behind the magazine are mostly corralled from the style press and what appears is a rehash of the styling, illustration, graphics and attitude of The Face, Dazed and Confused, and so on. As for the language... well, let's just say "last one down to the park's a muppet" and "mashed ranks of ravers" are not new even in the repertoire of early-teen trend wannabes. Allowing the psychiatrist who interviewed actress/singer Vanessa Paradis to ignore the fact that her dog is called Lonlieness suggests the editing pen is not entirely sharp.

Reporting on women's body shape and diet in different countries, complete with line-up of naked women, is straight out of Marie Claire. Indeed, Marie Claire is Nova's publishing stablemate. There is a school of thought that what made Nova Mark I so brilliant was that it was published in a time of shockability. So how come a feature on pubic hair in the Sixties used a no-holds-barred close-up photograph, and new Nova's relies on fey pastel illustrations? It's not good enough, lazy even, to say it's not possible to shock today's audience. A cover from Sixties Nova featuring a female hand unzipping a man's fly would hit the headlines now. Instead, we get a somewhat maudlin looking model in muted tones. If Nova publishers IPC were nervous about creating a magazine as radical as their original, why call it Nova at all? Why not just start a new magazine with no expectations?

It would be sour grapes, indeed, to make a judgement on a sole issue of Nova. In the sense of a coherent package, it's accomplished. The fashion is probably perfect for pin-thin, club-conscious, edge-searching groovers. But unless IPC is expecting a shake-down circulation of less than 100,000, it's difficult to see Nova lasting for and thriving in 15 years (the original Nova ran from 1965 until 1976). The reason for launching a magazine isn't to shock, entertain or inform. It's to make money. Advertisers must be convinced that large numbers of affluent women, the type who buy wrinkle cream and lipstick, are reading about them and seeing advertisements for them in Nova.

The ironic slogan on the T-shirt, by the way, is "Buy Nova, it's very good". Let's hope it doesn't end up as a plaintive cry for attention.

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